What Is Shaping?

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Looking for a fun way to build new behaviors while building your chops as a trainer? Try shaping! Shaping is the process of building a particular behavior gradually using a series of small steps to achieve the final behavior. It is a helpful addition to your training toolkit—especially useful for teaching behaviors that are complex or difficult to train in another manner.

Petting as Reinforcement

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One question that trainers are often asked is if food treats must be used as the reinforcer. Some dogs do not like treats. There may be a time when you don’t have treats with you. Perhaps you just want to add variety to your training routine. The good news is that non-food reinforcers, such as petting or praise, can be just as powerful as food treats for some dogs—this type of reinforcement doesn’t require anything except you and your dog!

Teach an Emergency U-Turn

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Have you ever been out on an enjoyable walk with your dog, rounded the corner, and suddenly come face-to-face with another dog? Or maybe it’s a child on a skateboard. In an instant, your relaxing walk turns to chaos with your dog barking and lunging at the trigger as you desperately try to move past. What if, instead of lunging toward the trigger, you could teach your dog to move in the opposite direction?

Teaching Interactive Play

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Here’s a common scenario: Your dog loves to chase toys. You pick up a toy and your dog dances wildly in anticipation. “Throw the toy, human! Throw it!” You toss the toy and your dog chases it… and then disappears. Game over! Many dogs love to chase toys, but they don’t always bring the toy back. How do you teach your dog to play interactively?

Building Value in Secondary Reinforcers

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Many people only think of using a primary reinforcer, such as food treats, when they are training behavior with an animal. However, there are many benefits to having of a variety of reinforcers that you can rely on. Secondary, or conditioned, reinforcers are stimuli, objects, or events that become reinforcing based on their association with a primary reinforcer. Secondary reinforcers have no innate biological value, so the value must be learned through experience and association.